Gridlock Guy: Pet restraints key to keeping down distractions

How our four-legged friends can be even more distracting than phones behind the wheel.

Travel season is well underway. The green flag for vacation waved for many as COVID-19 numbers in Georgia began to decrease and biceps and needles began meeting more frequently. The college and K-12 spring break period brought heinous traffic backups to I-75 on both sides of town. And that trend continues on the days leading into and out of each weekend, especially on the south side of town. And air travel is also sky high now; don’t bank on scooting really fast through Hartsfield-Jackson these days.

With many folks taking road trips or just hitting North Georgia’s beautiful trails and parks, plenty of pets are also taking rides. As I wrote about in 2018, shortly after getting my dog, Stallz, giving our furry friends free reign of a vehicle in motion can be just as distracting as holding a phone. And keeping dogs and cats loose in the car also increases their chance of injuring themselves or others in the car, if there is a wreck.

I didn’t fully embrace restraining Stallz even after I wrote the piece then. I loved snuggling with my big boy - watching him ride shotgun, while I give him a big rub down. And most of the time that worked well. But one time particularly proved the flaw in my vice. While driving on I-85 in Greenville, SC, Stallz flipped out when he saw a group of motorcycles. We never lost control, but I had to expend quite a bit of attention-bandwidth to simmer that malinois. One small move or a fractional requirement of more attention to the road could have caused disaster.

After my wife Momo and I had been dating a few months, she began wearing me out about keeping Stallz sequestered in the back of our SUV. Her friend, Kristina, has a big dog named Oskar and she installed a barrier in the back of her SUV that kept her 80 pound fur ball safely away from her. I relented and we installed one, making our travels with Stallz much safer.

I recommend doing your own research to find what is best for your own animal and popular pet website Chewy.com is a great place to get a cross-section of pet restraints. The JUMBL barrier is similar to the one Momo and I (mainly Momo) installed in our Ford Edge. While ours has legs that tighten to the car’s ceiling and floor, the JUMBL fastens to the rear headrests and looks very similar to one side of a kennel. At the time of this writing, they are on sale for $39.99 on Chewy.

If you don’t have an SUV or need the rear space for more cargo, there are dog restraints that buckle right into a seat belt clip. I have not used one, but know people that have and they seem to work well. We even bought one for my mom to use in her sedan when she pet sits Stallz. The KURGO tether runs for under $13 on Chewy and has a d-ring that attaches to a dog’s own harness and then buckles into the car’s safety belt. The dog does need to have a proper harness and not just a collar, to help prevent choking.

For pets 20 lbs and under (including cats), Chewy also sells the HDP Deluxe Lookout, which allows these smaller pets to sit on a perch and still look out of the window, a favorite canine past time. This padded basket has straps that wrap around a head rest, which keeps it from sliding on the seat. It’s also reinforced with metal on the bottom, to keep the pet and perch from bottoming out in the seat. They’re on sale on Chewy right now for $40.99.

If transporting a pet is a rare occurrence, say, only for taking them to boarding or vet appointments, then buying the restraints may not be worth the trouble. But make sure and transport cats and small dogs in carriers that are placed on the floor or in the rear cargo space. Small animals are either going to want to get into the driver’s seat (which is distracting) or hide under seats (which is a pain in the rear). And they could get seriously hurt in a wreck, if left to roam.

Pet adoptions rose during the pandemic and people are still getting their two legs under them in dealing with those on four legs. Putting proper tethers or restraints on dogs, cats, birds, fish, lizards, hamsters - whatever the precious cargo (not escargot - no pet snails, please) - is keenly important. We drive with enough distractions without our dogs bounding into our laps behind the wheel. And knowing how bad crashes in Atlanta traffic can be, we don’t want flying Fido’s to hurt themselves or their paw-rents.

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also hosts a traffic podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.

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